If current trends hold, this fall the freshman class at the University of Arkansas may include more students from Texas than from Arkansas.


That doesn’t surprise me. Our daughter lives in Fayetteville, and when I visit. I like to take her dog, Rory, for a walk. While strolling through the parking lot of a nearby apartment complex (The Vue on Stadium Drive), I can’t help but notice all the Texas license plates on vehicles parked outside.


The Vue is a new complex, and the north-facing units offer a great view of Razorback Stadium, Bud Walton Arena, Old Main and much of the University of Arkansas campus. It is one of several complexes close to campus that are used to house freshmen because there is not enough room in the residence halls to accommodate record-breaking enrollment.


This tipping point between Arkansas freshman versus Texas freshman almost happened last year. On the 11th day of the 2022-23 fall semester, which is when headcount is taken, there were 2,799 degree-seeking new freshmen from the state of Arkansas and 2,565 from the state of Texas. The year before the numbers were 2,615 to 2,014, respectively, and the year before that 2,452 to 1,341.


There has always been a healthy presence of Texans on the U of A campus, but up until five or six years ago, the freshman class ratio was generally two Arkansas students for every one Texas student. Now it is nearly 1:1.


I moved to Arkansas 30 years ago, shortly after the Razorbacks moved to the SEC. My first exposure to the intense dislike that Hog fans have towards the Longhorns was the 2000 Cotton Bowl. The first college football game of a new century produced a 27-6 beatdown of Texas, and the fan excitement was on par with the celebration following the 1994 basketball national championship.   


To Razorback fans, especially fans over 50, this rivalry with Texas is different. And it will soon be a rivalry renewed when the University of Texas-Austin joins the SEC. So, news that The Hill is being overrun by students from Texas, of all states, might be unsettling to some.    


But if you are an Arkansas native who is enrolled at the U of A, you might want to thank your Lone Star classmates. That’s because while in-state students paid $7,660 in tuition per semester last year, out-of-state students from Texas and elsewhere paid $25,420 for the same education. Apply those rates to last year’s freshman class, and Arkansas students paid about $48 million in tuition, while their 18-year-old classmates from Texas paid about $154 million. This is not exact, as scholarships lower the overall costs on both sides. But regardless, Texas parents are helping to keep college more affordable for Arkansas parents.


The rise in out-of-state students is a fairly new and very intentional phenomenon, especially among land-grant universities. These colleges were established following the passage of the Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862. It allowed for the acquisition of what was previously largely Indigenous land and allowed each state to create colleges that would “benefit the agricultural and mechanical arts.” (That is where the “A&M” in Texas A&M, another land-grant college, comes from.)


The Morrill Act made each state responsible for the education of its citizens. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville was founded under the Morrill Act in 1871, around the same time as many other state flagship universities.


While many states have multiple major universities (i.e. Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, Alabama/Auburn, Ole Miss/Mississippi State, etc.), for purposes of this article, I am going to look at what has been happening at six other public land-grant research universities that, like Arkansas, are their state’s lone flagship institution: Louisiana (LSU), Tennessee (UT-Knoxville), University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) , Missouri (MU), Minnesota (UM) and Wisconsin (UW-Madison).


Minnesota and Wisconsin have a reciprocity agreement. So, while the University of Minnesota enrolled about 6,700 new freshmen last fall, the vast majority are from Minnesota and Wisconsin (meaning they pay less). Which might explain the 3.5 percent tuition hike this year, and why the U-M system is now asking the state legislature for $300 million dollars, in part to help make up for a tuition shortfall.   


Wisconsin welcomed 8,628 freshmen — its largest incoming class ever. But only 44 percent hail from the Badger State. UW-Madison is required to enroll a minimum of 3,600 in-state students annually. Prior to 2015, the state imposed a cap of 27.5 percent on out-of-state students. The cap was lifted that year, and the surge in out-of-state students since has allowed in-state tuition to remain constant for a decade ($9,273/semester). However, out-of-state students are paying more than four times that much ($37,904/semester last year).   


At Nebraska’s flagship university, less than one-third of undergraduate students come from out-of-state; as UNL Public Affairs Director Leslie Reed puts it, “As Nebraska is a land-grant institution, UNL prioritizes Nebraska and Nebraskans.” Still, recent declines in enrollment has UNL working to recruit students beyond the Cornhusker State’s borders, students who would pay $24,900/semester in tuition as opposed to $7,770. Like its Big Ten brethren, UNL is dealing with a $13 million dollar budget shortfall this academic year on the heels of a $10.7 million dollar shortfall in 2021-22.   


Missouri, LSU and Tennessee don’t have that problem. Mizzou enrolled over 5,000 new freshmen in 2022-23 (up 2.7 percent); 6,785 freshmen arrived on Rocky Top last fall (up 14 percent); and LSU welcomed a record 7,637 new students (up 8.5 percent). Five years ago, out-of-state students at LSU comprised 18 percent of the undergraduate student body. That total is now approaching 33 percent.


The record growth at Tennessee has become too much. As a Feb. 2023 press release from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions noted, “To deliver the best Volunteer experience for all students across all four years in course offerings, residential experience and student life, UT will reduce the size of its first-year class and enroll fewer students than last fall.” Undergraduate students have been complaining about housing, parking, class sizes and other aspects of a crowded campus life created by a 10-year trend of growth in freshman class sizes.


The in-state freshmen representation at Mizzou, LSU and Tennessee last school year ranged from 67 percent to 69 percent. Minnesota and Nebraska both topped 70 percent, while fellow land-grant institutions Wisconsin (45 percent) and Arkansas (43 percent) are much lower, drawing from nearby, heavily populated states (Texas and Illinois). But Madison enrolls four times as many Wisconsinites as Illinoyers. Again, Arkansas is approaching a 1:1 ratio with Texas.


“For the last 20 years, nearly every flagship university in the U.S. has been decreasing its share of in-state students and enrolling more students from out of state, a phenomenon I call ‘The Great Student Swap.’ So begins a report for the Brookings Institute authored by Aaron Klein and published in September 2022. Klein finds that over the past 20 years, the University of Arkansas and 20 other flagship universities have reduced the number of in-state students enrolled by over 50 percent. Klein points out that while this has increased university tuition revenue, it has also driven up student debt.


Balancing a budget involves cutting costs or increasing revenue. Lowering salaries, eliminating positions or abandoning the arms race of newer and fancier facilities are unpopular options, so the pressure to increase revenue remains constant. Klein hypothesizes that adding more out-of-state students can irritate in-state politicians who in turn reduce state funding, which in turn necessitates adding more out-of-state students, creating a vicious cycle. He says a “virtuous cycle” exists in North Carolina, where out-of-state freshman enrollment at UNC-Chapel Hill and most other public state universities is capped at 18 percent. Government support for those universities remains strong.


Where do all of those Texas license plates wind up after graduation day? The Dallas-area Razorback Club is among the largest, so my guess is the vast majority put the education they gained in Arkansas to use in their home state of Texas. In a state desperate to improve the quality of its workforce, that is a concern. The university and economy of Northwest Arkansas benefits from the time Texas students spend in Arkansas, but not so much the state as a whole.


Plus, we don’t need divided loyalties in the student section when the Longhorns come to town.


What we will need is the biblical advice shared in the books of Matthew, Luke, Proverbs and elsewhere: Love your enemies.


Jason Pederson

For two decades, Jason Pederson served as KATV-Channel 7’s Seven On Your Side reporter. Now on the other “side” of his award-winning time on the news, he now serves as Deputy Chief of Community Engagement for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. His perspective-filled and thought-provoking column, “This Side of Seven,” publishes exclusively in AY About You magazine monthly.


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